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Flight 34 Was Short But Significant

by News Desk
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Compared to some other flights last year, Flight 34 may not stand out. Even shorter than Ingenuity’s first flight, his successful 18-second flight yesterday flew to just over 16 feet (5 meters), hovered, and then landed. The flight is of a simple nature, but the team is very excited about what it means for the future of Ingenuity.

Over the past few weeks, the operations team has been working to install a major software update onboard the helicopter. This update brings his two major new features to Ingenuity. Avoiding hazards when landing and using a digital elevation map to aid navigation.

Ingenuity was developed as a technology demonstration and was designed to operate on flat, smooth terrain such as the Wright Brothers Airfield on Mars. When Ingenuity moved to explore Jezero Crater with the Perseverance rover, we traveled through more challenging terrain than the team had anticipated.

Previous flights required Ingenuity pilots to find an airfield free of rocks and other obstacles that could damage the aircraft during landing. Jezero Crater is a rocky place, so finding a safe airfield can be a challenge! Using Ingenuity’s downward navigation camera, this software update adds hazard avoidance when landing. During flight, Ingenuity identifies the safest visible landing spot. When preparing to land, Ingenuity will detour to this selected location. This feature will allow Ingenuity to land safely on rockier terrain than before, giving pilots more potential landing sites.

Ingenuity’s navigation software was designed with the assumption that the vehicle is flying over flat terrain. If the helicopter is flying over hill-like terrain, this flat ground assumption will cause Ingenuity’s navigation software to think the vehicle is turning, and Ingenuity will actually turn to counteract the error. Start turning. On long flights, navigation errors due to rough terrain must be considered, and teams should choose large airfields. This new software update corrects this flat ground assumption by using a digital elevation map of Jezero Crater to help navigation software distinguish between terrain changes and vehicle movement. This improves the Ingenuity’s accuracy and allows pilots to target smaller airfields.

Flight 34 may not seem like much, but it was the first time Ingenuity had this software update. The team will use the results of this simple flight to begin testing these new features to ensure everything works as expected on the surface of Mars. This update brings new features to Ingenuity, making it a better vehicle and effective scout for Perseverance. We are all excited to see how this update will lead him on his Ingenuity journey next!

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